5 simple steps to make working with copywriters easy for you


"Okay, today we will be testing your skills in psychic prediction. One website. You may begin."

Stop me if this sounds familiar:


You need copy for your website. You don't have a massive team. You also don't have the time to write it yourself – let alone to work out how SEO works these days...


So, you hire a freelance copywriter. Now what do you do?


Working with professional copywriters should be simple:


One set of words for my website, please. Go!”


But how do you make sure you're not wasting your time and money?


Here's how to work with copywriters in the most effective way (filtered through a few hypothetical and not-so-hypothetical interactions I've had in the past six years of providing SEO copywriting services):


1) Tell your professional copywriter who you are and what you do

Writer: So, tell me about who you are and what you want to do.

Client: We're "x" kind of business. We really like this competitor's website.

Writer: That's a great place to start. Anything else?

Client : We really like this competitor's website.

Writer: *starts project, shows client*

Client : Oh, yeah that's great! Thing is though, you've – haha! – mentioned a few things we don't actually offer...

Writer: Really? This has come as a major shock to me. Please permit me to sit down a moment.

Client : Sure thing. Will you make the edits afterwards?


This has been, almost verbatim, the starting interactions I've had with several clients over the years. Let me tell you:


Having very little to go other than a ten year-old website and a bit of hopeful inspiration from a competitor is not ideal.


You know who you are and you know what you do best. Tell your copywriter. You should insist on telling them about:

  1. Your Unique Sales Points (USPs)

  2. Your brand

  3. Your goods, services and the terminology you use

  4. Facts and figures which point to your skills or reliability as a company

  5. Your objectives for your copy – is your website for e-commerce purposes, to get people to contact you directly...?

Because if you don't provide the information, how will they know?

"I sense you are some kind of consultancy... you want an e-commerce platform... three pages... and your phone number is..."

You'd best start hoping they develop mind reading abilities overnight (Actually, that would be pretty sweet – look into this immediately – Editor's note). Otherwise, they're just going to be guessing.


Of course, this sort of situation is partly your writer's fault:


If they don't ask you for any information and you haven't offered any...


Well, they have the experience to know how this is going to go.


But put yourself in their shoes:


How many times would you tell a potential client (who, after all, you want to pay you actual money at the end of the day) that they are being dumb by not providing this information?


Once? Twice? Income-riskingly-many times?


Still, a professional copywriter should insist.


2) Highlight and organise the important details

Client : So, here's four pages of information about each of our services, totalling around 60 pages of information.

Writer: Erm.

Client : Great! We look forward to hearing from you!

Writer: *starts project, shows client*

Client : We feel we're on the right lines here. We couldn't help but notice though, that you haven't – haha! – highlighted what we consider our main USP.

Writer: Oh, really?

Client : Yes, really. You'll find it in the third line of that big paragraph on page 16? Writer: Ah.


Some information is way better than no information. More information is better than some information. Too much information is...


Just too much information! TMI, guys. TMI!


By all means feel free to highlight and underline what you consider to be the salient, must-mention facts in the brief you send to your freelance copywriter.


That said, do be wary of tying your writer's hands by demanding too much precision. Allowing them to suggest different ways to do things can be very beneficial.


After all, you hired an expert for a reason.


3) Decide on your tone

Client : We can't quite put our finger on it, but we're not quite feeling the copy. It's nearly there, but it's not quite... us.

Writer: No problem – I'll take another look.

Writer: *adds a single adjective from their original website*

Client : Oh wow! What did you do? It's perfect!

Writer: *modestly* I'm just really talented that way.

"Yes, we want to be playful yet serious, a little stand-off-ish yet eager to please."

I know this sounds stupid.


But, I kid you not, this was almost the exact real life interchange I once had with an actual client, a graphic design studio in Australia.


It's almost beyond belief that a single word could change someone's opinion of a piece of writing so drastically.


Yet, it's true.


The important thing to bear in mind is this:


That single word encapsulated everything this client felt their business was. Without it, the copy was missing something vital.


That's at least part of the reason why it's so important to talk to your copywriter about your tone or brand voice. Many brands have a brand style guide which contains things like:

  • Audience personas – who your target audience is, what they need, how and where they're going to interact with the content.

  • Tone of voice – the more detail you can give here, the better. I've said to potential clients who had no brand voice that even a single word would help define a style to write in. Honestly though, the more words you use to describe the tone you want, the better. “I want to be professional but I don't want to put anyone off by being too arch”. Good and bad examples are always a solid idea.

If you don't think you have one, it's still worth taking the time to decide on at least some general points before you get them to start writing.


Some helpful tools and aids for your writer will be:

  1. Brochures, sales letters and pages of your original website which you feel encapsulate your brand or a tone you like. Even if it's just a sentence or a word or two.

  2. Any particular words, phrases or trademarks (by which I don't necessarily mean officially trademarked aspects) which your customers associate with your company.

4) Talk to your writer about layout and format

Client : We're designing a new website. We need some content for it.

Writer: Great! Can you send me your designs?

Client : No, no. We're designing the website at the moment. We need the content for when it's finished. Please get started immediately.

Writer: *starts project, shows client*

Client : Yes, good stuff. However. this bit is too long. This bit is too short. We were hoping for a few bullets on this page and, actually haha! we want three additional pages on these topics in order to meet the design, you know...

Writer: Erm... actually...

Client : We look forward to hearing from you!

"Oh no, you don't get to see where your pieces are! Where's the fun in that?"

This is another area where you're essentially making your copywriter paint a picture in the dark if you don't give them the information they need to succeed.


Usually, the best thing to do is to put your copywriter in direct touch with your design team (particularly if you're a small business and the design team includes or is you).


Because any professional copywriter you hire will need to know about:


1) Length of content

How long should your content be? It can be tricky to know sometimes.


But once you have a design, you can “lorem ipsum” your way to success. This gives your copywriter some length goals which will help them create content which fits what you want.


Be wary of contradicting yourself, however.


I have had, in the past, clients who have specified certain sections of lorem ipsum text and then an overall word count which was far larger than could possibly fit in the specified lengths combined. As well as vice versa – very long lorem ipsum passages and a very small word count.


2) Layout

It should hopefully go without saying how important it is for your copywriter to know where to site:

  • Calls to action

  • Text where it wraps around or skips over images

  • Lists

  • Headings

They won't be able to psychically predict this, remember. (Still, here's hoping for mandatory selection to any X-Men type psychic powers training program as soon as they exist – Editor.)


So if you can't provide a fixed and final design, it might be worth holding off on giving your writer their marching orders until you do.


3) Formatting

Even if you don't have formal brand guidelines, you've probably got your own preferences for how certain things should be formatted:

  • Are quotes to be italicised? How are they cited?

  • Do you use bold or underlining? If so, how much and when?

  • Do you need HTML tags to be included?


"Now, please don't get upset, but we've called you here today to explain why we hate every single word you've written."

5) Expect revisions and give feedback

Writer: Here's a first draft for your perusal. It'd be great to get some feedback, then I'll edit it.

Client : Hmm... yeah... it's not quite right.

Writer: No problem at all – it was a first draft. How is not quite right?

Client : Well, erm it isn't quite what we we had in mind...

Writer: Okay, sure. How so?

Client : Could you just make a few changes?

Writer: I'm happy to. But what – specifically – is not what you had in mind?

Client : We look forward to hearing from you!


Revisions and feedback are a key part of how pretty much any copywriting agency works. Mostly, it'll be a tiny edit here and there which will iron the copy into the shape you were picturing.


Any professional copywriter will usually include at least some revisions in the price they quote. At least, they will if they're doing the sensible thing and setting their copywriting services prices by project.


So, just to be clear:


Revisions are built in. They're expected.


Even copy that's almost perfect – something that's nearly exactly what you wanted – will almost certainly still need some polishing. So, if you need changes making before you're happy with your copy, most writers will – within reason – make as many as you like.


It's down to you, however, to be as clear as you possibly can be when describing the broad or specific changes you want to see.


(Insert final psychic powers gag here – Editor)


Working with copywriters: tips, hints and how to

I, somewhat cavalierly, offer unlimited revisions to my clients.


A fact which I know – for sure – is going to come back to bite me someday. No doubt, it will also be a bite in a place in which I do not wish to be bitten...


But when that day comes, it will arrive for one simple reason:


It'll be because I didn't insist that this mythical client-of-infinite-revisions give me all of the necessary information upfront.


To avoid that client being you – no one wants to start biting anyone around here – these steps are a good place to start when you're working with a copywriter for the first or the hundredth time.

Need to know more about working with me or any other freelance copywriter? Fire me an email or leave a comment below.

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